MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Did anyone actually pull away Tuesday night?
One week from Election Day, West Virginians had an hour to form opinions from a nationally-televised U.S. Senate debate on Fox News.
Those on stage included Congressman Evan Jenkins, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and ex-coal executive Don Blankenship, who served a year in jail on a misdemeanor mine safety conspiracy conviction.
“(Evan Jenkins) was very articulate,” Maria Bronosky, a Huntington native, told MetroNews following the debate. “Got his point of view across very well, and I think he did a great job, showed a lot of enthusiasm for what he’s asking us to vote for. And I was delighted by his performance and glad to be here for him.”
Perhaps one of the most interesting takeaways from the night rests on the likability of the least likely candidate — former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.
“Evan and Patrick (Morrisey) just beat up on each other, you know?” said Jack Simms, a native of Hilton Village in Fayette County. “It’s probably going to come down to them splitting votes, and Blankenship may slip in there.”
Simms said his decision has become a lot clearer following Tuesday night’s debate.
“I never was firmly in anybody’s camp, but probably a little more tonight, after the debate, a little more for Blankenship than I was,” he said.
Julia Church, a resident of Yeager in McDowell County, made what some might consider a surprising admission. She’s both the widow of a coal miner and a Don Blankenship supporter.
“Don Blankenship knows what needs to be changed,” she said. “So far, in all this election and campaigning, he’s been the voice of my husband, of myself, of my kids. He understands what needs to be changed. MSHA investigating themselves is a huge problem.”
“All these other candidates and these current representatives, they want to run their campaigns off the back of coal miners, but when something happens like UBB… when is the last time they made changes? What have they changed?” Church added.
Many believed Congressman Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey dominated the night in terms of how they focused on attacking the other, with Blankenship often cleaning up — occasionally even surprising with his humor.
Meanwhile, Jenkins and Morrisey both attempted to align themselves with President Donald Trump as closely as possible, questioned the other’s conservative credentials, and traded jabs about who was or wasn’t telling the truth.
But that sniping wasn’t totally unexpected if you’ve been a close follower of the race, Maria Bronosky said.
“I thought it was spirited,” she said. “And I enjoyed it.”
In fact, despite her support for Jenkins, she suggested both Morrisey and Blankenship had strong nights.
“While I think that the other candidates did a nice job today, and I learned a lot, it didn’t take anything away from my vote — my 100 percent committed vote to Evan Jenkins,” she said.
The one-hour debate, hosted by FOX News as part of their mid-term election kick-off, included the three candidates who polled above 10 percent in a poll the news agency released last month.
Election Day is May 8.